US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the United States will withdraw its troops from Syria while continuing the battle against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), also known as ISIS.
Speaking at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo on Thursday, Pompeo said that Washington remained a steadfast partner in the Middle East.
“President Trump’s decision to withdraw our troops has been made. We will do that,” the top diplomat said.
Earlier this week, US National Security Advisor John Bolton laid out conditions for the pullout, including the defeat of ISIL in Syria and guarantees for the safety of Washington’s Kurdish allies in the campaign, who have been threatened with an imminent offensive by Turkey.
Bolton’s comments were widely seen as backtracking on Trump’s announcement.
But Pompeo insisted the two statements were entirely consistent.
“There is no contradiction whatsoever. This is a story made up by the media,” said Pompeo, underscoring Washington’s continuing commitment to preventing any resurgence by ISIL.
Pompeo is in Egypt as part of a Middle East tour aimed at reassuring Arab partners after President Donald Trump announced his plans to withdraw US forces from Syria.
He met Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Ittihadeya Palace on Thursday to discuss security and economic cooperation.
He also delivered a speech at the American University in Cairo, calling for an end to Middle East rivalries to roll back Tehran’s influence and vowed to “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria.
“It’s time for old rivalries to end, for the sake of the greater good of the region,” Pompeo said in the speech.
Pompeo arrived in Egypt after stops in Jordan and Iraq where he sought to reassure leaders that withdrawing from Syria does not mean the US is abandoning the fight against ISIL armed group or easing pressure on Iran.
He has chosen Cairo as the symbolic venue for the speech seemingly intended to repudiate the message in former US President Barack Obama’s landmark address to the Muslim world from the Egyptian capital when he first took office.
Pompeo intends to assert the Trump message that Iran is to be countered at all costs while assuring that the US remains deeply committed to the region, despite the America First rhetoric emanating from the White House.
In Saudi Arabia, he faces the thorny problem of dealing with global outrage against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), who is accused of conspiring to murder Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.